A few of us played hookey from school today in order to go to one of the most famous markets in Guatemala, in Sololá. We took a boat to the other side of the lake (Panajachel), then caught a “chicken bus” up to the town. This was my first time on a chicken bus, and it was great. They’re the cheap and dirty way to get around the country, and tourists rarely take them. I wouldn’t want to for a long journey, but it was great for 30 minutes. Jammed with locals in their traditional garb carrying all manner of things. No chickens, but there was a live duck on the way back!
I was told the market at Sololá is much less touristy than the other big famous one, in Chichicastenango. They were right, we saw hardly any tourists. There were all manner of things being sold – traditional clothing, food products, housewares, small livestock (baskets of baby chicks!), on and on. One interesting side note: with the advent of literacy, they are starting to weave words into their handbags. Traditionally, each town was identified by the colors and patterns woven into the clothes and bags of that town. But now words are staring to appear. Interesting evolution.
Several vendors were selling big slabs of rocks. Hmm, strange, I think, selling rocks. I mean, they build with rocks, but selling them in the market?
Then someone mentioned that we eat those rocks. What?!
I learned that it’s limestone, which is used in the process of making tortillas. Apparently it not only helps bind the corn together and ease digestion, but soaking the corn kernels in limewater (not to be confused with limes from trees, totally different) also “liberates the vitamin niacin and the amino acid tryptophan“, thereby greatly increasing it’s nutritional value. Now how did the ancient Mayans figure that out?!
Traditionally, after the corn was boiled in the limewater, it would be rolled out into dough. That’s a big pain as you can imagine, so nowadays it’s done by machine. Everyone takes their chunky corn dough to one of the five places in town that has one of these machines, and you come home with the smooth dough.
Watching them scoop up a bit of the dough along with a bit of water and slap it between their hands to form flat pancakes is pretty fun. Even kids can do it really fast. The round pancake is then thrown onto a large griddle (traditionally a wood-fired flat stove) and cooks up in a few minutes. Fresh tortillas are lovely. Unfortunately, most people make a huge stack at a time and then eat that stack for the next five days. 3-day old tortillas that have been microwaved tend to turn a bit rubbery, as bad as pre-made crepes on the streets of Paris.
I tried some of the street food on offer in the stalls, and was not disappointed. Fresh grilled tortillas topped with mystery meat (I think it was pork, but might have been dog.. just kidding), fried onions and other veggies, and hot sauces. Yum. Around here, any tortilla with stuff on it is called a taco. That took a while to get used to, since I grew up thinking of tacos as those hard crispy folded things that you line with meat, cheese, and lettuce.
I didn’t see it until I looked at my pictures that night, but there was a guy wearing a BAM Cafe shirt! Weird, I wonder where he got it. I love juxtapositions like that.
I had been warned by my house mother to take precautions against pickpockets who operate in the market. So, I only put a bit of cash into my front pants pocket, and stashed the rest deep in my zippered rear pocket. You’ve guessed the rest – halfway through the day, I realize that rear pocket is hanging open, sans cash. I was more amazed than pissed. It was a good bit of money for me (about 350 Quetzales, or approx $50), but a fortune to the kid who swiped it. I’ve got to hand it to him/her, they were good. I never felt a thing.
Click here to watch a video of a guy hawking pelts. He keeps pointing at different parts of his body, I guess implying that the pelt will cure various ailments?!